Elliot Nicely’s comb

hospice care
the way she quietly combs
into his hair
with her fingers

Elliot Nicely (USA)
(previously published in Eucalypt #25)

This tanka gives me a real sense of peace and acceptance, specifically in: “she quietly combs sunlight into his hair.” I feel a gentleness in the verb “combs,” which reminds me of slow-rolling ocean waves, or a soft breeze in a field of grass. It also brings me a sentiment that the person lived a fulfilling life, regardless of their age. I first envisioned the man is in hospice and his wife is combing his hair, though I like how the tanka leaves this open for interpretation. It could very well be the woman who is in hospice and she’s combing the hair of her husband, her son, or someone else she’s close to. Hospice relates to a person who is physically ill and has 6 months or less to live. Love and compassion don’t always require words and can be expressed through silence, in gentle, wordless action. I feel this tanka expresses one of those moments. A beautiful poem. 

Jacob Salzer (USA)

The opening line of this tanka takes us to hospice care as an expression of a place that everyone knows. The tanka precisely describes the story of a woman who may be a nurse, a mother, a spouse, or a grandmother. In each case, she is caring and may be missing her motherhood memories in the past. The scene describes a carefree moment where she may be sitting in the sunlight with a child/boy/man and enjoying combing his hair with her fingers. It also shows the personal touch of a person with someone who is close to her and where there are no materialistic things needed to enjoy mundane activities.

This also demonstrates how both persons are pondering about life, maybe reminiscing their past. I can see the furrows in the hair resultant from combing with fingers, which depicts how fruitful life becomes when someone sows the seeds of love, care, and sincerity. I loved the imagery of this tanka, which portrays the story of life in hospice care—full of memories, love, compassion, kindness, and personal touch.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

This is a moment of quiet yet powerful symbolic actions—whether intended or not. The person being cared for is ill or dying, and sunlight, the power of the sun, is being combed into the patient’s hair. In a way, it is giving life to a person on the edge of death. It could also be a sign of someone who has lived their life fully and is now returning to the realm of the natural world.

The sense of sound in this tanka is wonderful as well. The soft “o”s in hospice, combs, and into, and stark “i”s in hospice, quietly, sunlight, into, his, hair, with, and fingers make for a sonorous feel that adds emotion to the poem. The tanka is sparse in words, but each word seems carefully selected and paced. It’s a tanka with depth that can be clearly seen.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

“Endearment” by Asiza.

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